The mission of the Amberley Collaborative is to strengthen natural and peer support systems in greater Waco and rural McLennan County, Texas, for individuals, families, and groups experiencing challenging and isolating life circumstances.
Several goals guided us in 2021:
1. Mental health in congregations: Improve faith communities’ responsiveness to the mental health needs of their members.
2. Financial stability: Inform professionals, caregivers, and disabled members of our community about financial options for people with disabilities.
3. Access to community resources: Increase knowledge about professional resources and opportunities for social connection and mutual support.
4. Disability voice: Build and participate in networks that address and express the concerns of people with disabilities and their loved ones.
While continuing to operate safely in the context of the Covid pandemic, we made strides toward meeting these goals in multiple ways.
Mental health in congregations
Guided by our interviews with leaders of 23 Waco-area congregations in 2019–2020, we designed an online Mental Health in Congregations continuing education course that addressed the concerns most frequently voiced by the leaders we talked to. We launched the course in January 2021.
Over the course of six 90-minute sessions participants learned about common mental health conditions, creating congregational structures that support mental health, accessing professional help, assisting congregants who are in crisis, and fostering belonging for people with chronic mental health challenges.
The nine presenters on our team included faith community leaders, mental health professionals, and people living with mental illness. Each evening’s session included both a professional expert and a lived-experience expert. The sessions were interactive and allowed plenty of time for discussion.
The course was well-received and effective, but because of its length, there was insufficient interest for us to continue the course. We also realized that to build our relationships with congregations, we needed to take a more well-rounded approach that would engage a wider range of congregational leaders and concerns. We thus began conversations that resulted in creation, in cooperation with Calvary Baptist Church, of the Waco and Heart of Texas Benevolence Network, a monthly online gathering of deacons, benevolence coordinators, and other helpers in faith communities to share best practices, learn more about local resources, and support one another in our work of cultivating caring communities. Meetings began in November 2021.
Living with a disability can mean making do with a very limited budget. Applying for disabilities benefits can be difficult, and the Social Security Administration puts strict limits on the amount of money beneficiaries can earn or save. But there are ways people can open space in their budget without violating Social Security limits, and often people have access to more health care coverage than they realize and thus can save money on medical bills.
To help people with disabilities stretch their dollars we created our Financial Instruments for People with Disabilities workshop. Our team of four presenters includes the SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery) lead at the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network, an independent health insurance broker, an investment manager with expertise in special needs trusts and ABLE accounts, and a lived-experience expert who weaves her family’s story with these financial instruments through the workshop. Participants are encouraged to contact the presenters after the workshop for free assistance in accessing the financial instruments they learned about.
The Financial Instruments workshop was offered in May, June, and November and was very well received. Each presentation was open to 20 to 25 people, and the May and November presentations had waiting lists. Participants included people with disabilities and their family members, transition-to-adulthood staff in area school districts’ special education offices, and employees of Goodwill, Ascension Providence Hospital, Grassroots Community Development, Prosper Waco, and the Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network.
Access to community resources
A recurring challenge in the Waco area has been creating and updating listings of professional resources, and there has been no central listing of social and support groups. We are responding to the first challenge by hosting Findhelp.org trainings, and to the second by launching the Communities section on our website.
Findhelp.org creates and maintains listings of social services in communities across the United States. Local residents can suggest both new listings and updates to existing ones, and Findhelp.org staff maintain them and keep them available. Findhelp.org addresses the problem of scattered and outdated resource listings, but few people in the Waco area know about it, and navigating the voluminous listings can be difficult without guidance. Therefore in October we collaborated with Waco’s Calvary Baptist Church to host a workshop in which a Findhelp.org trainer showed congregational benevolence coordinators how to use the website effectively. Benevolence coordinators from four congregations and staff from Baylor Scott and White Hospital’s Faith in Action program participated in the training. After the training we began conversations with the Waco–McLennan County Public Library about offering the Findhelp.org workshop to their staff, and we launched the Waco and Heart of Texas Benevolence Network, discussed above. After the October training, Faith in Action added a segment on Findhelp.org to their volunteer training, which reaches volunteers connected with congregations throughout Central and North Texas.
We also inaugurated our Communities listings on the Amberley Collaborative website. By the end of 2021 we had published listings of social and support groups related to the autism, Deaf and hard-of-hearing, dementia and caregiving, IDD (intellectual and developmental disability), and LGBTQ communities.
When we made amplifying disability voice in community decision-making one of our goals for 2021, we recognized that we would need to begin by developing relationships in the disability community and in the institutions where self-advocacy of disabled people can make a change. We have been limited in our ability to develop these relationships because of continued caution during the Covid pandemic, but we did what we could to strengthen our connections in spite of those constraints.
The most important of these has been our involvement in Our Community Our Future (OCOF), the system-of-care network for child and youth behavioral health in Central Texas. Director Meg Wallace and board member Tory Schafer have been involved in OCOF’s Gaps, Strategy and Implementation, and Steering Committees. Meg was able to recruit people active in the autism, Deaf and hard-of-hearing, and LGBTQ communities to participate in the Gaps Committee’s identification of service gaps related to behavioral health, and has been active in discussions about promoting bicycling as a transportation alternative for youth. Meg also arranged for Danco Comfort Services’ donation of an HVAC system for the art building at Chase House, a youth crisis respite center operated by Heart of Texas Behavioral Health Network.
In other collaborations, Meg completed three years of service as communications officer for the Waco Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities in the spring and passed the baton to Amberley Collaborative board member Aleysia Chambers, who now serves in that role. Finally, Meg and board member Israel Loachamín are active in the Bienestar Latino Mental Health Coalition.
In 2021, the Amberley Collaborative received $7330.96. The largest source of revenue was a $5000 grant from the Episcopal Health Foundation conveyed through Prosper Waco. We also received a substantial gift from Mary Pat Donnellon, as well as multiple smaller gifts, totaling $1925. Finally, we received $211 in course fees and optional donations for workshops.
Our expenses for 2021 were $7478.30. The largest expense, $6000, was our contract with Meg Wallace for organizing services. Computer services, including a Zoom subscription, and board liability insurance together cost $1118. Remaining expenses included bank fees and honoraria to continuing education course presenters.
A full financial report is available here in PDF form.
Thank you to our partners
Givers of major financial gifts
Episcopal Health Foundation via Prosper Waco
Mary Pat Donnellon
Organizations that cohosted workshops
Calvary Baptist Church of Waco
McLennan Community College Continuing Education
Board members who served during 2021
Workshop and continuing education presenters